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Denis Solomon • 982 words

If you are going to make a mess of something, it should be something worth while. Something in which failure will force you to do better next time. In our relentless pursuit of superficialities we give exaggerated importance to things inherently worthless and then define our own criteria of success. Carnival, for example, is always trumpeted as a Trini triumph. In fact, from the cultural, commercial and political point of view it is an ever-increasing disaster.

Lloyd Best’s article in last Saturday’s Express referred to our failure to construct protocols for dealing with the reality of our political economy. This is as true of Carnival as of the national budget. But we have now gone even further, and taken a decision that will enable us to exercise our faculty for cosmeticised catastrophe without any need to learn lessons for the future, because the future doesn’t come into it. I refer to the decision to host the Miss Universe pageant.

The Miss Universe pageant will be a mess. All concerned will lose, except Donald Trump, who takes none of the risk. But Trinidadians will, on its conclusion, hail it as an example of everything that makes the country great. There is already talk of postponing Carnival in order to combine the opportunities for ongoing and ad hoc confusion. Furthermore, a UWI survey informs us that the population is overwhelmingly in favour of the event.

In May last year I wrote a column claiming that a public opinion poll in Trinidad and Tobago was a contradiction in terms, for a number of reasons. Take, for example, the classification of respondents into “African”, “Indian” or “mixed”. What could be a less useful way of dividing up the population? It is invalidated by the meaninglessness of the category of “mixed”. Everybody knows that the gross political division is between “Indian” and “Creole”, with a fringe of white and Chinee. (Don’t ask me where the “Douglas” fit in). But which Creoles classify themselves as “mixed” and which as “African”, and why? That question is more important than any that are actually put.

In relation to the Miss Universe contest, the unreality lies in the fact that the question of hosting it is part of a survey in the first place. It should not matter where Miss Universe is held. The fact that it is so important to us is the surest sign that we should keep away from it. In India or Israel, Belgium or Bangla Desh,, no national poll would ask the question, and if one did, the overwhelming answer would surely be “who the hell cares?”

Here, of course, respondents not only accept the question as important but also answer it overwhelmingly in the affirmative. And the most interesting fact that emerges relates not to the ethnic but to the educational background of the respondents. The survey proves conclusively that the more educated Trinidadians get, the stupider they become. This corresponds closely to my own observations over twenty-five years as a UWI teacher. Sixty-five percent of primary-educated and sixty-one per cent of secondary-educated respondents (an identical proportion given the four-per cent margin of error) are in favour of holding the pageant, as against a whopping seventy-one per cent of university-educated respondents. The last group ought to be the one with the most nuanced attitude to the question (in fact to any question), and should also contain the highest proportion of people who couldn’t care less about beauty pageants. Instead, it is the one that shows the highest proportion of agreement.

It is not surprising that the tertiary level of education should be the low rather than the high point of our intellectual development if sixth-formers are taught the kind of reasoning used by Mr. William Carter, Principal of Queen’s Royal College, in his arguments for stopping the intake of female students. Mr. Carter claims that they were distracting the boys and that the bathroom facilities were inadequate. When I was at QRC, what distracted us was the absence of girls, and the unhealthy fantasies it induced. And the inadequacy of bathroom facilities is hardly a decisive argument for a reversal of national educational trends.

Mr. Carter should also be asked to explain how girls managed to distract boys without distracting themselves, and also whether he plans to get rid of the female teachers, whose powers for distraction, if they care to exercise them, must be more highly developed. I once saw a female QRC gym teacher in a leotard who distracted me at the age of fifty (fifty was my age, not hers).

Underlying Mr. Carter’s reasoning is the sinister implication that the educational bottom line is the performance of boys, with girls being accepted or not in accordance with their potential for enhancing or diminishing it. Somebody should tell Mr. Carter that the function of the school system is the education of youth, not boys. The idea of QRC as a sort of English public school turning out an officer class was false in colonial days and even more so now.

When I was there, QRC was probably the best school in the country. But it was still bad. Even within the scope of its wrong-headed aims, it got steadily worse. But its acceptance of girls ten years ago was at least a small sign that it was ceasing to be part of the world of self-deluding fantasy exemplified in other areas of life by the Miss Universe pageant.

The women’s movement, if it exists, should long ago have sued the Ministry of Education to open all “prestige” schools equally to both sexes. Whether we should have girls in QRC (and boys in Bishop’s) would be a far more worthy subject for a national survey than the prospect of a Miss Universe contest in Curepe, or even the approval rating of Government and Opposition, a subject that in our political context is equally meaningless.

Copyright © • Denis Solomon • Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association • www.humanist.org.tt/humanist/forum/solomonPage Top